Lord Howe Island claims national award for being ‘on the cusp’ of record rat eradication

Media Release |

The Invasive Species Council has awarded the Rodent Eradication Project managed by the Lord Howe Island Board with a national Froggatt Award for their efforts controlling rodents on one of Australia’s natural treasures.

The annual awards, named in honour of the Australian entomologist who was a lone voice lobbying against the deliberate release of cane toads in the 1930s, recognise outstanding achievements in Australia’s fight against environmental weeds, diseases and pest animals. 

‘While eradication has not been officially declared, there are promising signs it is on track, despite a major setback earlier last year with the detection of breeding rats,’ Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said. 

‘If it is successful, it would be the world’s largest ever eradication of rodents from an inhabited island.’

The World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island Group is home to the world’s rarest insect, the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, alongside 1,600 other species of terrestrial insects, 241 species of native plants and 207 species of birds.

Half of Lord Howe Island’s native plants are found nowhere else in the world. Photo: Jack C Shick

Mice were accidentally introduced to Lord Howe Island around 1850 and rats later in 1918 as they escaped a sinking ship. They have since been responsible for the extinction of five endemic bird species and at least 13 endemic invertebrate species. 

Introduced rats have been responsible for the extinctions of five endemic bird species and at least 13 endemic invertebrate species on Lord Howe Island since 1918. Photo: Jack C Shick

Rats are also responsible for the extinction of two Australian plant species from the island and are recognised as threats to a further 13 bird species, two reptile species, 51 plant species, seven threatened invertebrate species and 12 vegetation communities. 

‘Rodents have had a huge impact on native species on Lord Howe Island,’ said Jack Shick, a fifth generation Lord Howe Islander and third generation mountain guide. 

‘I mostly noticed the seeds of plants being eaten and reduced numbers of land birds. Also, my vegetable garden and fruit trees aren’t providing food for rodents any more.’

‘The Rodent Eradication Project began eradicating the ship rat and the house mouse in 2019, following 15 years of planning and research,’ Mr Cox said. ‘The project builds on earlier eradications of feral cats and pigs in the 1980s, feral goats in 1999 and the world’s first eradication of myrtle rust in 2018.’

Highly-trained conservation detection dogs play a critical role in removing rats from Lord Howe Island. Photo: Justin Gilligan

‘There has been an unbelievable rebound of birds, plants and insects since rodents started being removed in 2019,’ Mr Shick said. 

‘Woodhen numbers were at around 250 in 2018. In less than 2 years their numbers are now at about 600 birds. The amount of seedlings from native plants popping through has to be seen to be believed.’

After a period of about 18 months without detecting rodents, several breeding rats were found in early 2021 which led to a rapid eradication response by the Lord Howe Island Board. 

‘With the success of the 2021 response, it was timely to reward the heroic efforts of the eradication team over one and a half decades,’ Mr Cox said. 

The eradication project received a Froggatt Award in the control and eradication category.

‘The achievements of the Rodent Eradication Project, in the face of immense technical and social barriers, leave Lord Howe Island on the cusp of exterminating one of its most problematic invasive species,’ Mr Cox said.

‘The eradication project has been a complex team effort drawing on global eradication experts and the local community. It was supported by state and federal government funding and the work of multiple agencies, local staff and volunteers.

‘We recognise in particular the leadership by Andrew Walsh during the pivotal years prior to and during the eradication project and the long-term support provided by Hank Bower.’

‘Completion of the rodent eradication program and further work on an ambitious weed eradication program are set to establish Lord Howe Island as a worldwide exemplar of island restoration. 

‘There’s still a long road ahead. Completing the eradication will require intensive surveillance to officially confirm success and a concerted effort to improve biosecurity on the island to retain its hard-won rodent-free status,’ Mr Cox said.

View All Froggatt Awards 2021 >>

Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]